Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Venezuela - Where dreams go to Die

Venezuela. Just typing the word is still a bit difficult. There is a reason I am nearly two months behind on updating the blog about our time in Venezuela, and it has little to do with the crap computers we had available to us there. Although that didn´t help. I wanted so badly to be able to report back about the wonderful times and beautiful places we saw in Venezuela. To be able to say that everyone else just wasn´t as savvy traveler as I and that there was no place that could keep me away. Unfortunately I can not do that. Although I will say at the same time that I most certainly will go back someday.

Venezuela is so corrupt it caused us to got robbed even after we left the country. Not only did we get bribed by the border control officer at the border($20USD), and then robbed by the POLICE on our second day($400USD), we also got robbed on our first day in Buenos Aires, Argentina($2,000USD) because we were at a bar celebrating the fact that we finally escaped Venezuela! Someone stole my daypack right from under our feet which contained my camera with its $600 wide angle lens attached, normal lens, my ipod, my brand new Mr. Jones watch I´d just gotten from my mom for Christmas, and both mine and Gemma´s passport. Because the computers and/or Picasa wouldn´t upload my pics the numerous times I tried in that miserable country, I lost every picture I´d taken in Venezuela. Deep breaths. We didn´t get hurt and stuff is replacable.

Oh and I got pick pocketed for about another $40 on the subway in Caracas. That one just wasn´t that good of a story so I almost forgot about it.

The worst experience was getting robbed by the Police. Everyone told us to stay away from them and even cross over to the other side of the street if you are walking towards them becuase they are so corrupt. Gemma, Keyon and I had just crossed over the border from Colombia into Venezuela and needed to take a long bus ride to get to our first destination. The bus ride was supposed to be about 1o hours but ended up taking closer to 16 because it stopped five times for police checks along the way. They made every single passenger (about 40) take their bags out from under the bus, stand in line and have them inspected. This happened five times mostly along the same stretch of highway. They even ran them through an x-ray machine that was alongside the highway. This delayed our bus so badly that instead of getting into Maracay at 8pm we arrived at 2:30 in the morning.

We walked two blocks to the nearest hotel and as soon as we arrived at the door (which was gated so we couldn´t walk in) a police car pulled around the corner, stopped, and two officers got out and walked straight toward us. Short of running away from them there was nothing we could have done. They motioned us away from the hotel I was trying to get us let into. They started asking us if we smoked, if we had any drugs on us, essentially trying to find a way to extort money from us. Unfortunately for them we had no drugs and were not going to be easy to get money from. I tried my best to stand strong and watch over Gemma to make sure she wasn´t getting frisked unneccesarily or that Keyon wasn´t getting harrassed.

After a good fifteen minutes went by with them finding nothing in our bags the 6´3¨ officer starts waving his gun around and saying alot of stuff in spanish that I didn´t understand. He then pointed at my wallet. I have lost alot of sleep over what I did next but have come to the conclusion that things wouldn´t have turned out any differently had I not handed him my wallet. All our childhood we are taught to respect authority and do what Police officers ask. I wish I hadn´t handed him my wallet but he asked for it and I did. He then took $400 US dollars out of it and handed it back to me. He typed something into his phone and showed it to the other cop (probably ¨I just stole $400 dollars from this punk American, lets go to the Chavez store and buy the biggest¨....my editor won´t let me finish that thought) and then they let us go.

I´m actually lucky he didn´t steal all $1100 dollars in my wallet. Why did I have so much money on me you ask? Because Venezuela has a black market exchange rate. Duh. If you take money out of the ATM you get 2 to 1. If you bring dollars into the country and exchange them in the back of chinese owned electronic stores (not kidding) then you get somewhere around 5.5 to 1. And the prices in Venezuela only make sense at 5.5 to 1. If you had to pay for everything at 2 to 1 then it would be as expensive as London. So by stealing $400 dollars from me he actually stole $2200 dollars buying power from us.

This set back pretty much ended our hopes of being able to climb Roraima and see Angel Falls. We had really been looking forward to a six day hike up to the top of the table top mountains that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle´s book The Lost World. Google Image search Roraima and you´ll see why we were upset.

All this aside, there were some good times. After all Venezuela does have some ridiculously beautiful beaches. Its just when you turn around and realize that Venezuela is behind you when the sun goes down that makes it all a bit depressing. And I´d have even more amazing pictures to show you had Venezuela not gotten my camera stolen. Maybe its a good thing. If you saw some of the beach pictures you might be tempted to go there. Check out this sunset and this cheeseburger:

That cheeseburger was Gemma´s first meat purchase. I´d pushed cheeseburgers and sausage on her in the past but this was the first time she said ¨I´d like a cheeseburger for dinner and I´m gonna buy one.¨ Other people might be sick of reading about this but I´m quite proud of what might be my best sale ever. Convincing a vegetarian of 23 years to crave cheeseburgers! Here´s her first bite.

Below is a meat cart. You get to choose small, medium or gigantic and then the lady just piles the plate with an assortment of heart clogging sausages, meat and intestines. Her customers were not skinny. Nor were most Venezuelans.

Another example of a beautiful beach surrounded my mountains and palm trees. This pic was taken in Puerto Colombia from Gemma´s camera on our first day when it was kinda cloudy, but you can imagine how nice it was with the blue skies we had the next four days.

Keyon got a massage on the beach and continued to try as many local foods and liquors as he could get his hands on. I´m not sure what it is he had in the picture below but I remember it looked awful and tasted worse. But you´ve got to try the mystery wraps at least once to see whats in there.

Every night we had this exact conversation - ¨What do you guys want to do tonight? How about go sit on the wall?¨ That was the only thing to do in this tiny little fishing town once the sun went down. We met a friendly fisherman down by said wall one night and listened to him tell us about his fishing boat and showed him our white boy salsa moves.

Everyday there was a baseball game going on. Baseball, not soccer, is the sport of choice for Venezuelans.

Here is a funny pic of Keyon realizing what kind of alcohol we can afford on our backpacker budget. If you are planning on coming and meeting up with us you´ll have moments like this too when you realize the type of sacrifices we make in order to travel for months on end.

I´m not sure why Gemma put this picture into the blog but in a way it summarizes my thoughts on Venezuela. We´re walking away but smiling about it all and yeah, we´ll be back someday.

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